Attending to the symphony in 18th-century England -
with ROBERT ANDERSON
'There is delicious writing along the way for woodwind and horns.'
There is no need to blush if the names of Collett, Marsh and Smethergell
have not so far been anyone's top favourite in symphonic matters; not even
Dr Burney lists them. He was of course apprenticed, rather uneasily, to
Dr Arne and added his bit to the 'Alfred' opera, which included 'Rule Britannia'
as a show of defiance to Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. Arne was leader
of the band and composed for the fashionable gardens of the time, mainly
Vauxhall, but also Ranelagh and Marylebone. Burney had a high opinion of
Carl Abel, writing to a German colleague about him in November 1771: 'Abel
has been many years in England, has composed excellent symphonies and Quartets
for violins etc....and he is, moreover, the most perfect player of the Viol
da gamba I have ever heard, indeed his taste is the most exquisite and refined'.
Burney also approves of the Earl of Kelly, claiming he 'was possessed of
more musical science than any dilettante with whom I was ever acquainted'.
He reported that before going to Germany, he 'could scarcely tune his fiddle';
but then he 'shut himself up at Mannheim with the elder Stamitz' and returned
a fully-equipped musician.
Not that the other composers are negligible; far from it. Collett dedicated
his Op 2 symphonies as a 'young Adventurer' to Kelly, and certainly learnt
some Mannheim tricks from him, such as the famous 'crescendo' and the idea
of adding a minuet to the symphony. Marsh was another 'amateur' composer,
trained as a lawyer but inheriting sufficient means to settle near Canterbury,
where he revitalised local music, and then at Chichester. As well as symphonies
he wrote books on astronomy and campanology. He was a keen member of the
anti-Napoleonic Chichester volunteers, and alone of this composer half-dozen
was not metropolitan. Smethergell, by contrast, was a City organist, who
was born and died in London. He wrote a certain amount 'for the improvement
of juvenile performers', but his eight-part 'overtures' were Vauxhall novelties
and favourites, popular enough to need a second edition.
Copyright © 13 October 2001
Robert Anderson, London, UK
CD INFORMATION - ASV CD GAU 216
PURCHASE THIS DISC FROM CROTCHET
& Vision home Recent reviews